Last weekend I was teaching at a music camp for grown-ups. I like being at this camp – I’ve written about it before. There’s an awful lot of people who are really passionate about music, and want to learn. But there’s this weird belief that a lot of them have – than me, as a teacher, can give them one insight that is going to make things hugely different for their playing – like putting more rosin on their bow, or sitting differently, or adjusting their music stands. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.

I was also fortunate enough to sit in on a lesson given by a very-fabulous guitarist to a young student. And really it all boiled down to one thing. You need to know so much background knowledge to play better. You need hours at the instrument. And not just a few – but hundreds of hours every year. You need to work hard, and work hard consistently.

I joke with a regular playing partner of mine about a certain style of amateur player. They have every gadget available. Tuners. Fancy stands. Magnetic self-sharpening pencils. Apps that show them all sorts of stuff. But they don’t play very well, because they don’t actually sit down and practise.

It’s not magic. It’s not really a gift. I mean, sure, there are people who show aptitude. And there are people who instinctively can phrase beautifully. But actually, most good players work. And work hard. Damn hard. Day in, day out.

I deliberately try to steer away from political issues here. I do this for a number of reasons. I’ve tried to have only a few ‘battles’ in my life and work, and speak about them only. I know a fair bit about those issues, and so can talk about them knowledgeably. I don’t have the time to know (and learn) about other stuff enough to talk about them with enough knowledge to propose a good case, and to rebut points from a differing point of view. I won’t talk to you passionately and persuasively about Trump, or American politics, for example. I won’t talk to you about mining. I won’t talk to you about high school education problems, or tertiary education. There are too many things I don’t know.

will talk to you about primary music education – I know a lot about that. I mightn’t talk to you a lot, as I’m too busy just doing it, but if you get me at a good point in the week, I’ll sit you down and bore you to tears, if you’d like. I’ll also talk to you about chamber music, and performing it in a real and risk-taking way. I’ll talk to you about how hard it is to run your own concerts, and all the hurdles you’ll face. I’ll talk to you about how great it is to perform with other inspiring musicians.

But now I find there’s a political issue that has sort-of flowed into my teaching practise, so I’ve thought about it a lot. And I’ve read about it. And now I’m going to talk about it. And what’s more, I’m happy for you to talk back to me about it. In a grown-up, let’s-have-a-discussion-about-this-properly-and-not-start-name-calling way.

It’s about Australia Day.

Here’s the problem I have. You see, I work with a lot of Indigenous kids. And this really affects them and their families. This day makes them really angry. They are in fairly tight communities, and the whole community is angry about it. There’s marches, and drinking and anger. (Have I mentioned the anger?) And the kids pick up on this. And then, very soon afterwards, they go back to school, and are taught by (in my neck of the woods, mostly) whites. And they are still angry. And it takes a while to settle down. A goodly while.

I wonder what it would be like if my teacher-friends didn’t have to start the year off like this.

This all-important public holiday hasn’t always been a public holiday. It has only been like this since the 90’s (1994 to be exact). Why does our ex-PM think it’s appropriate to send off barbed tweets about the only reason to change the date of this is ‘political correctness’? Did he learn nothing as the Minister for Indigenous Affairs?

Have a think about this. Picture yourself in a share-house, and you want to have a party on a particular Saturday. One of your flatmates says “Guys, my grandma, who I loved so much, died on that day. I feel really miserable on that day. Can we have it the next weekend?” What do you do? You change the party date.

I am not saying let’s not have a day to celebrate this great country. I’m saying let’s have a date that everyone can celebrate together. We talk about ‘reconciliation’. We talk about ‘respect for the first peoples’. So let’s actually do something. Surely no-one really cares about celebrating on January 26?

And as an aside, how about a public holiday in November instead when everyone’s really knackered?

I have just come back from two wonderful weeks away. I swam in cold ocean water every day. I didn’t wash my hair at all. (I didn’t brush it either, but that’s nothing new….) I ate fresh oysters and just-caught lobster. I listened to a lot of music. I stayed up late, playing games and laughing with people I love. I didn’t play the cello at all. I read a lot.

It was perfect.

2017 was a busy year – full of concerts, artistic challenges, a few disappointments (but they come with the territory, really), lots of teaching problems (and mostly solutions), headstands, handstands, a new wine bar in Marrickville, recording plans, good food and a big trip overseas. I needed a rest!

Now I am sitting writing this ready for 2018. It’ll be bigger, I think. More concerts already. A CD to record. Some travel – some for work, some for play. I’m looking forward to so many things! I know that not everything that 2018 will throw at me will be positive. I know that there will be some hurdles, probably a mountain to climb (that’ll most likely be the CD recording), plants in my garden will get eaten by snails, and there will be some bendypretzel yoga stuff I’ll not be able to do at all.

But I think I’m ready for it. I have some funky new tye-dye pants. I have new pieces to play. I have friends there with me. My cello is good to go. Bring it on!

I used to teach in a school. I won’t say where it was, but I was there for many, many years. I made some good friends there, and worked with some fabulous teachers. I loved the kids there – opening up all sorts of musical doors for them. It was there that I refined a lot of the stuff I do now – djembe drumming patters, chair drumming, many of the part songs I teach in choir. There were two very fair and far-sighted principals there.

As an ACMF teacher, I don’t work for the Education department. Most of the time I use that to my advantage – I’m a slightly ‘different’ teacher, and most of the kids I teach get that. Most of the teachers I work with get that too. In the schools I’m in, I understand that I expect a great deal. I will also give a great deal. I expect children to be engaged in my lessons. And if they aren’t, that’s my problem. I will rack my brains to work out how I can engage them better. I expect teachers to join in and learn with the children. I expect musical instruments to be treated with respect. And most of the time, I will expect teachers to teach a ‘revision’ lesson.

This may sound a lot, but let me explain further. Most schools ask for this. They want me to ‘upskill’ their teachers – to teach myself out of a job. I don’t just say to teachers ‘Well, do this.’ I give them a lesson plan, with all the backing tracks they need. I demonstrate very clearly in lessons how to do things. I am extremely methodical. If they want other tracks, or listening activities I will share it with them.

So, back to this particular school. After over-a-decade, you’d think that teachers would have seen what to do. And at the risk of sounding really egotistical, the music lessons I provide to teachers are really good. Really, really good, in fact. There were instruments there. There were backing tracks, both on-line and in CD format.

Sadly, the two fabulous principals I worked under left. Someone else came in. She called me ‘intimidating’ and wrote that my music lessons excluded children (not too my face, mind. Just on paper.). It was time for me to go, and with a heavy heart, I left. It was hard for me to leave a school I loved so much, but the staff had changed, and so had the culture of the school. I now hear that they are involved with a program run by another arts organisation that provides a few days of music training for teachers just for one year group. And that is their music program at the school.

I have nothing against this arts organisation. But we all know that a handful of training days does not an expert make. My reasonable husband said something like “But you should be happy – because a group of children get music lessons.” But we both knew it’ll be not-very-good music lessons.

And after all those years, I feel like I’ve been kicked in the guts. It doesn’t surprise me, knowing this principal. But it still knocked me for six.

I’ve run a number of concerts in schools for Christmas. For me, this is really important. It gives children a chance to perform proudly. It gives them a chance to learn something and really perfect it – I’ll often give a class or year group something that I know will take a number of weeks to really get good, and encourage their class teacher to practise it with them. Usually, it works. And the pride it instils is enormous. At least, that’s my opinion.

Fr every concert I’ll drill kids on how to walk on and off, how to hold their instruments when they move, how to behave on stage. This is from kindergarten (or even pre-kindergarten, when I ran early childhood classes), up to high school. I see this as really useful skills that can be taken anywhere with them – if they need to speak publicly, stand and receive an award – anywhere, really.

I take it seriously.

I have been criticised for this, you know. One principal wrote in a report that I was ‘intimidating’.  They didn’t say it to my face (maybe I was too intimidating? I write that cheekily. I can now see the funny side of this, but it took me some time…), but I suppose I could have been. I’ve been called bossy (but then I’ve been called that for years. Nothing new.). But I produce very good school concerts that run smoothly, and every child performs well. Most of them really enjoy it. Some of them surprise themselves.

And now I get to the point of this post. It’s actually not about the children performing. It’s about the audience.

I know that there’s no point asking why people video things rather than just experience them. I know I’m in the minority there. But why do parents stand up the back of concerts and talk (often quite loudly) during school concerts? Why do they allow their toddlers to run around the room (or even onto the stage?), or sit right at the front of the stage talking loudly? Can they not appreciate that it’s really hard to concentrate when this goes on? Or that I am asking children to do something they as adults probably couldn’t do – and it’s easier for the performers to do this in a quieter environment? We’re not at a barbecue, or the beach. We’re at a concert. And because they are organised to within an inch of their lives, they don’t go for very long.

I don’t understand it at all. I am even more proud of the kids who do focus, and perform really well. I am always amused when drumming starts – it’s impossible to talk over that. But I am perplexed as to why it happens.